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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 1003


Senator DURACK(4.53) —I want to raise a general question-which I think may be allowed as arising under the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 1985 because I see it as part of a package-which arises out of remarks that the former Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, made in his reply to the second reading debate. By way of preface I reject his accusations against the Opposition's disinterest in the problem of the probable, almost certain illegality involved in the taping of conversations and the invasion of privacy. In all the debates last year I emphasised that aspect. I think the former Attorney-General will acknowledge that in the very first statement that was ever made by the Opposition on this matter, which was made by me, I acknowledged the most likely existence of illegality in the interception of this material, but that is by the way.

I would like the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) to clarify the question of who is going to grant the immunity and the indemnity. The Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) has indicated some strange views about the granting of indemnity. He obviously was on a pretty slow learning curve. I am glad, of course, that in the end resort has been had to the document known as 'Prosecution Policy of the Commonwealth', which I strongly adhere to now as much as I did when I drafted it. I acknowledge the very great difficulties there are in deciding this question. It is fair to say that I found the granting of indemnities the most difficult of the many difficult decisions one has to make as Attorney-General. I acknowledge that the Attorney-General is perfectly entitled to consult his colleagues in relation to the matter, but I would like an assurance from the Minister for Resources and Energy that in the end the Attorney-General himself will be allowed to make the decision and that he will not be overborne or unduly pressured by his Cabinet colleagues. There seems to be an indication from the turn of events of the last week or two that possibly this has been looked upon as a purely Cabinet decision and not ultimately a decision that the Attorney-General himself should make in the performance of his quasi-judicial functions, rather than simply as a Minister.

There are two questions: Does the Government acknowledge that in this case the Attorney-General has that independence? Does the Attorney-General himself believe that he has that independence and will he exercise it in an independent way? If that is the view of the Government-and I hope it is-will the Minister guarantee that the Attorney-General will not be unduly pressured by the Government in exercising that very difficult decision that he must now make?